Mar 15

EMINEM – “The Real Slim Shady”

Popular103 comments • 9,203 views

#864, 8th July 2000

eminem rss Never has the “early, funny stuff” cliche held such weight in pop: we’re at a stage now where the new stars coming through are still heavyweights now, and the sclerotic Marshall Mathers of the mid-10s haunts this swaggering, sparkling kid. But “The Real Slim Shady” is still an Eminem who knows how to tell a joke – though how much he’s joking is open to question – and he’s the most technically audacious and exciting rapper to have hit number one yet. By a considerable distance – take the “Now there’s a million of us…” climax, thirty-seven staccato monosyllables from “just like me” to “not quite me”, a pattern of triple stresses reeled out and back like a man casually doing tricks on a yo-yo. Or the animals – cannibals – canteloupes – antelopes – can’t elope rhyme set, as bravura in its wordplay as anything you’d find on an underground mixtape. Or the entire first verse (”Act like you never seen a white person before…”) and its teetering jenga of internal rhymes. Or the single’s best gag, delivered barely as rap, just as a great one-liner: “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss on his raps to sell records / Well I do / So fuck him and fuck you too”

And then you might take a step back. That sumptuous rhyme set builds to a homophobic punchline, that first verse is the most technically superlative domestic violence gag you’ll ever hear, and Will Smith, like Britney and Christina and Fred Durst and boy bands, is a very, very soft target, even in 2000.

Your response to that might be “so what?” – Eminem’s command of his track is so total, and his presence so strong, that introducing my own sense of morality or discomfort to proceedings can feel a little like cheating. The man is selective in the taboos he breaks, but breaking them is part of his deal. That was certainly the appeal of Eminem on his breakthrough single. “Hi… My Name Is”, where the Shady persona felt like pure id, a mix of horrorcore tropes, grand guignol shock tactics, a real and festering resentment at a shitty childhood poking through… and an odd, self-deprecating streak where Shady is half-pathetic and very much part of a fucked-up world, not simply a response to it.

“The Real Slim Shady” comes on as a sequel, the second in a series of straight-to-video shockers: Slim Shady Goes To Hollywood, maybe. But that’s the problem with horror franchises – the monster is what people pay to see, and the longer the series runs, the more he becomes the hero. In “The Real Slim Shady” his enemies now stop being the world and himself and start being more specific parts of pop culture. Which is where the “soft targets” problem comes in. Eminem is announcing his arrival as a pop fixture – and the success of his first album had made that inevitable – by taking on the weakest of imaginable enemies. He knows his tribe, and their prejudices well, but this stuff is the opposite of shocking. He’s consciously consolidating the audience he’s found. But the arrival of Slim Shady in the real world loses something. In the twisted universe of “My Name Is” he’s a force of chaos, a self-destructive trickster. Here he presents himself as just another cultural commentator, needling away at the entertainment biz’ foibles and hypocrisies. What’s his actual critique of those “little girl and boy groups”? They annoy him, and maybe Christina Aguilera slept her way to the top. It’s less Loki, more Perez Hilton.

That’s not to say he’s insincere about his distaste for pop – and certainly much of his audience, his crowd of mini-Shadys, also felt it for real. It’s not even to say he’s unsympathetic – in Popular terms, the allure of “The Real Slim Shady” is much boosted by the relative lulls on either side of it: however gross or lazy this single is in places, it gets points just for sounding alive and motivated. Pop fans – obviously I am one – can be as brittle as anyone about slights to their chosen music, which is often corny, distasteful, exploitative or just idiotic. Nothing could be more shrill and misguided than insisting everyone like that stuff. And in the case of 13- or 14-year old Eminem fans, you might as well ask them to stop watching slasher movies, or trying to score pot off their older brothers. Or wanking. “The Real Slim Shady” is as pure, as toxic and as well-made a shot of teenage exploitation as “Born To Make You Happy” was.

But there’s something else that’s changed since “My Name Is”, too. The point of Slim Shady is that he’s a nihilist, he doesn’t give a fuck what you think. But strip away the cartwheeling delivery and the Dre production – whose simple, jolly bounce is a hook in its own right, and a great example of how Eminem used sound effects to establish and bolster his comic persona – and what do you have left? Behind the jokes, “The Real Slim Shady” is a surprisingly defensive single, giving rather a lot of fucks, and mostly concerned not just with taking down pop’s star system but with establishing Eminem’s counter-arguments and get-out clauses.

These run along familiar lines – real life is just as fucked up as Shady’s raps, and lots of people are thinking or saying privately what he has the balls to say out loud. (He saves the question of whether any great responsibility goes along with this great power for his next number one.) This is a third role for Shady – not psychopathic id, or biz outsider, but a kind of frustrated everytroll, speaking for a silenced mass who express themselves mainly by buying his records. It’s a persona that’s halfway between the political outsider – Slim Farage – and the shock-tactic comedian – Andrew Dice Shady. And not knowing which way it might tip – into comedy or cultural politics or, in Eminem’s case, something more nihilist and personal – is part of the appeal.

It’s an appeal with parallels – you can look forward to Anonymous but also backwards to punk, and this – plus stardom and proficiency – was why Eminem was such critical catnip. “Half of you critics can’t even stomach me” – but the other half adored him, for his volatility, and the sense that here, at last, was a story we hadn’t seen before, one whose ending we didn’t know. Well, we know it now: not just for Eminem, whose peak and slow decline I’ll have to write about in depth, but for Shady, whose blend of psychopath, critic and everyman once seemed dangerously new and now feels exhaustingly, inescapably, familiar.

“Now there’s a million of us just like me who cuss like me who just don’t give a fuck like me who dress like me walk talk and act like me it just might be the next best thing but not quite me!”
Fifteen years on, this seems just as true but far less funny. Eminem didn’t invent trolling, or stay good at it for long, but his signature brand of it has thrived in the Internet century. Wreathed in lulz, self-righteous if challenged, somehow bitter about a culture it has a box seat in, vengeful against mothers, lovers, women who have the gall to speak or fuck or simply be noticed. The real Slim Shadys haunt Twitter mentions tabs, newspaper comments boxes, subreddits, social media from YouTube to YikYak, anywhere axes can be ground. Marshall Mathers no more caused our culture than Elvis caused the sexual revolution, but like Elvis he could feel some crackle in the air and he knew how to draw that lightning down through himself. He was hard to ignore, he has become hard to enjoy.



  1. 1
    flahr on 30 Mar 2015 #

    For some reason I was under the impression that “My Name Is…” had been the #1 and not this (recall I was not paying attention at the time at all). These live in the shadow of the bunny for me and aside from cursory half-listens on KISSTORY to confirm that they’re not as good as the bunny I’ve not listened to them out of fear they’d not be as good as the bunny.

    Eminem is very definitely someone I’ve never got into because of the sense of story there is around his music; I dunno if it’s overemphasised by the critics but I’ve always got the sense that the music relies on you knowing the biography, the history, the news stories. I find that a bit disappointing, really, but we’ve got plenty more of it to come and I’m sure that sort of #transmediastorytelling #transmedia #storytelling is just as exciting and invigorating to some people* as it is not to me.

    *I will refrain from being rude and saying ‘mostly music writers’

  2. 2
    James BC on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Is Eminem talking about fans who were inspired to dress and act like him, or complaining about hordes of copycat studiedly transgressive white rappers popping up? I always thought it was the latter – but found it a bit confusing as there clearly weren’t any.

  3. 3
    Seb Patrick on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Yeah, while I remember this being absolutely everywhere, I don’t really think of it as having been a #1. Strange.

  4. 4
    Mark G on 30 Mar 2015 #

    So, is it like Spartacus the slave, where he needs other people to stand up and shout “I am Slimshady” ?

  5. 5
    mapman132 on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Reached #4 in the US. His first US #1 was still two years away, as was his best work. TRSS was typical of Eminem’s early hits: mildly amusing on first listen, progressively annoying as time went on. Only 4/10 from me.

  6. 6
    Matthew Marcus on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Yeah, this is a triumph of substance over some very slight / mean-spirited / trollish content. But I guess you’re not going to get too far in a project to catalogue 60 years of chart-popping top if substance is all you’re after. I listened to this back-to-back with Oops!…I Did It Again just now and (for me) that was really grating by about a third of the way in, whereas I could listen to TRSS on repeat for ages, nasty nonsense though it almost certainly is!

    Jeez, I can’t believe these songs are all 15 years ago. I’ve reached that advanced age where it all starts to seem like basically yesterday…

  7. 7
    Phil on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Like the lyrical content generally, the “real Slim Shady” shtick was both clever and thoroughly asshole-ish – in fact it’s meta-asshole-ish, which (again) is clever if nothing else. Some performers welcome imitators & followers (Lady GaGa, Moz, Madonna, Bowie…), recognising (a la “Rubber Ring”) that they used to be down there themselves. What Eminem’s doing here is telling all his imitators to fuck off, when he didn’t even have any imitators – he’s staging the spectacle of a snotty Ziggy, saving himself by pissing off the fans, and then asking his fans to buy into it. Like the squeaky yammering tone of his delivery, which makes a performance of Being Irritating – I mean, it’s like somebody telling Joe Pesci he was irritating (“I’m irritating? You telling me I’m irritating? I’m sorry, did I irritate you? Am I irritating you right now? What, am I an irritating person?”… only over and over again for four whole minutes). (Thinks: what would you get if you alternated the most irritating voice in pop music with a bland, syrupy Radio 2 voice bleating life-affirming wibble? Sounds crazy but it might just work…)

    All very clever. Now please take it away and let me never listen to it again. 7 in the abstract, 4 for putting this horrible man between my ears again.

  8. 8
    lonepilgrim on 30 Mar 2015 #

    I can remember seeing the video for this at the time and finding it bewildering – which may be the point, but also because I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics beyond the most obvious ones. What I did/do appreciate about Eminem is his flow and wordplay and his willingness to give voice to an angry, marginalised male underclass which I recognised in part from my experience working as a teacher – even if the content is ‘problematic’.
    ‘You taught me language, and my profit on ’t /Is I know how to curse.’

  9. 9
    Kinitawowi on 30 Mar 2015 #

    “Y’all act like you never heard a white person before
    His rhymes are a bore, punk kid tryin’ to be hardcore”

    It took about fifteen minutes for some American girl called Emily Ellis – who sounds vaguely like Christina Aguilera, and knows it – to go on Las Vegas’ KLUB radio with an answer song to / parody of this. Yeah, the flow isn’t as good because of the need to mix in the original rhyme schema – which shows how skilful Eminem was to pull it off in the first place – but it’s sufficient counterpoint to provide a choice.

    Eminem’s track is – as Tom noted – a lightweight attack on his perception of the pop establishment; Eliis slights Eminem as little better (“you ain’t nothin but a product / packaged to be bought up / you know, a year from now you won’t be thought of”). Personally, I was always going to side with Ellis on this one – my favourite Eminem song is the non-single “Mosh”, the only one where he gets his head out of his own arse and tries to attack an actual establishment – but Eminem scores a few points for enabling Ellis’ version to exist.


  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Where to start with this one?

    Let’s face it, My Name Is … had one hit wonder written all over it at the time. Even when Guilty Conscience repeated the trick Eminem didn’t look like he was going to have any sort of enduring career, let alone reshape the musical landscape.

    It wasn’t so much this song that did it (it was basically My Name Is Part 2) as The Marshall Mathers Album – the second biggest selling long player of the year as a whole – that did it. That album does of course have a better remembered bunny to come (but I suspect we’ll end up talking about the non bunnied sampled artist then) as well as a relatively modest charting non bunny I’ll come to shortly.

    My first instinct was to ignore Eminem even though I didn’t actively dislike his stuff. As a rock fan it was hardly my bag and as a gay man there were other reasons to steer clear. And yet in January 2001 I sneaked in with a copy of the Marshall Mathers LP and listened to it through headphones so my Mum couldn’t ask me why the hell I was listening to a rap record.

    I found the record a revelation, albeit an unsettling one. Eminem made no secret about his different personaes; not just Marshall Mathers and Slim Shady but within song characters Steve Berman and Ken Kanniff without always drawing a line where one ended and the other began. It was also an uncomfortable listen because it held up a mirror to a world everybody would prefer to think didn’t exist – it had been done before by the likes of Public Enemy and NWA but this was the true infiltration into the mainstream.

    The most interesting tracks (and it’s been a long time since I heard the record for reasons I will come to) were the ones where the brattish Slim Shady delivery was dropped completely and Marshall Mathers came to the fore. This gave us the unlistenable murder fantasy Kim but also the album’s best track Marshall Mathers (although the homophobic swipe at Insane Clown Posse loses it a mark) and second single The Way I Am which takes a brutal swipe at the attention that comes with fame.

    The problem I have with early Eminem is that hip hop the genre has moved on so much in a short time that the tracks now sound quite horrifically dated. It’s to Eminem’s credit that as the genre evolved so did he; he seems as comfortable in the Kanye West era as he did when Dre and Snoop Dogg ruled all. It should be added that – against considerable odds – his violent past never came back to claim him.

  11. 11
    Kinitawowi on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #6: funny you should mention those two as back-to-backing. Massively popular at my uni hall at the time was a mashup, almost certainly acquired off a nascent Napster and called some variant on “Oops… Slim Shady Did It Again”. Basically placing The Real Slim Shady’s lyrics over Oops’ backing, it pretty much shot its bolt in the first few seconds.

  12. 12
    Tom on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Re. imitators – I think he’s having it both ways, laying claim to a tribe and putting himself above them (as well as dissing any possible imitators) – but that’s partly because I see this as a pair with, er, “Bun”, because I’ve had them both on the playlist, so I’m more interested in his self-image vis-a-vis fans than I am in his self-image vis-a-vis rivals.

    But the rivals things is complex. The impression I get is that prior to a beef with Canibus around the time of The Eminem Show, Eminem didn’t really get much into public battles or feuds – despite obviously having the skills to handle them. Part of it is his genuine reverence for rap and him just not liking (or wanting to sell, at least) that sort of material, part of it is probably that as a white guy in a predominantly black genre (and becoming a superstar within that), Eminem is cautious about the language he uses and the stances he takes. The gulf in talent is what mainly differentiates him from Vanilla Ice, but also unlike him Eminem works out his own archetype, drawn partly from horror, rather than trying to imitate the existing archetypes in black hip-hop. (The obvious comparison point is INSANE CLOWN POSSE of course)

    The lack of a great imitative white rap boom after Eminem is the dog that didn’t bark in his entire story, of course.

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2015 #

    “My Name Is…” was a strong debut. Deliver your rap as a letter of introduction, get Dre to present your USP in such a convincing and almost universally accessible way and watch it sail into the choppy waters of the charts, foaming with frothy pop and trance. Eminem could not fail to be noticed. The fact that it missed #1 is almost incidental. It was Slim Shady’s world and we were merely living in it.

    By the time “The Real Slim Shady” hit the top, I figured this guy would be dominating things for a long time. How disappointing is that? Compare with the man he sets himself against; Will Smith, pays his dues in West Philly and has two separate careers before hitting the top spot here, and this Missouri-born, Michigan-Raised upstart is parachuted in, seemingly overnight, and gets to crossover, seemingly five minutes after he picks up a mic. None of this is at all accurate. D12 had been in existence for at least 5 years. Eminem had paid his dues, while holding down a string of menial jobs to keep the money rolling in and feed his family. This wasn’t middle-class cultural appropriation, but a truly loquacious talent, given his moment in the sun by the good grace of Jimmy Iovine at Interscope and Dr Dre at Aftermath.

    From a more enlightened and right-on perspective, there’s plenty of subject matter in TRSS to clutch one’s pearls to. But that’s hardly the point, unless you happen to be one of his targets. TRSS is a scattergun blast of little stinging disses, designed for playground playback through the mouths of 13 year old wannabes. In the context of the 2000 pop landscape, TRSS stands out like a recently hammered thumb. (8)

  14. 14
    Tom on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #9 re “Mosh”, which I like – my favourite Eminem track of all is his other semi-political one, “Square Dance”, which is his/Shady’s response to the war on terror, slipping between a Canibus diss track, weird Bush-imitating funny voices, and a paranoid fantasy about getting drafted. I can’t think of any track that catches the surreal, accelerated feeling of post-9/11 politics and news quite as well.

  15. 15
    Shiny Dave on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #10 “(but I suspect we’ll end up talking about the non bunnied sampled artist then)”

    This reminds me of a question I’ve had for a while. Tom, are artists whose only appearances on #1 hits are in the form of sampling:

    a) unbunnied;
    b) bunnied until the first of those samples appear; or
    c) bunnied if and only if credited?

    (Amusingly, these would’ve all led to different answers for Enya were it not for “Orinoco Flow” – both “Ready or Not” and a 2004 bunny sample the same Enya track, and she gets a “featuring” for the latter but not the former.)

  16. 16
    Shiny Dave on 30 Mar 2015 #

    As for this single, I can’t mark it. It’s a magnificent piece of deeply problematic craftsmanship – “Dreadlock Holiday” feels like the comparison, but I’m not sure even that’s sufficient! It’s a 10-grade execution of a 1-grade idea to me.

    This is obviously filling a particular cultural hole that would’ve been filled anyway, and the only way I could criticise Eminem for that is if his singular brilliance at doing so made that hole bigger. Do the trends explained in the final paragraph – and I know a lot of people who are firmly on the receiving end of the damage from them – happen just as much without him? If they do, I’ve no right not to give Eminem the (very) high marks his technical merit warrants.

  17. 17
    Tom on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #15 Strictly speaking artists aren’t bunnied, only tracks are! If there’s an obvious upcoming place to discuss an act, I guess leave it till then, but it’s entirely up to you. So if you fancy chatting about Ms Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong (for it is she) then do so any time.

  18. 18
    thefatgit on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Hmm…Dido marries Eno. Think of the carnage on the marriage certificate!

  19. 19
    Kinitawowi on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #17: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; some names should be legally considered child abuse.

  20. 20
    wichitalineman on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Back when he still sounded like Choo Choo from Top Cat.

    TRSS is currently scoring 8.3, which seems to go against most of the comments here. I thought this was accomplished and witty, with a properly catchy (“please stand up”) chorus, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Tom has pulled out the best rhymes, which really are quite spectacular. Dated? Of course it’s dated, it’s a 15 year-old pop record.

    As for the dubious lyrics, I think we’ll find a few more – and worse – as Tom goes on.

  21. 21
    JoeWiz on 30 Mar 2015 #

    I think this works better than many of his ‘Hey! I’m Eminem and I’ve got a cutting new single with a hilarious video to trail my forthcoming album!’, maybe because it wasn’t quite as well worn as it would be become. A few of this lines are pretty cutting and can still raise the occasional smile. Eminem would make far, far better records than this, but the album this is from is still maybe his best. I’d have to disagree that this era of his music sounds dated, the references natch, but I wouldn’t say the production sounds particularly ancient. But then I’m far from a hip hop expert.
    I was much more concerned with the release, this week, of ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay. I loved it. The way it soared and chimed and entangled itself around me. I still feel pretty much the same now. But more of them in good time.

  22. 22
    wichitalineman on 30 Mar 2015 #

    ‘Dated’ is an odd concept, mainly because it’s almost always used as a negative (60s split screen films are ALWAYS described as ‘dated’). Lyrical references that are of the moment (with the possible exception of political ones) are usually a plus for me; the idea that anyone cared that much to get angry/snipey about Britney, Xtina and Fred Durst dates this very nicely.

  23. 23
    chelovek na lune on 30 Mar 2015 #

    En route from the 2 Live Crew to 4chan…technically brilliant, kind of self-consciously puerile fun, and with riffs that count. What’s not to love? Eminem was (and is) so annoyingly inconsistent – his catalogue a real mixture of brilliant, sometimes provocative, but characterful tracks on the one hand, and forgettable or just silly charmless “teenage boy thinks farting is sophisticated and funny” nonsense ones, on the other hand. TRSS succeeds in (somehow) staying on the right side of the line. 7

  24. 24
    Shiny Dave on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #17 That makes sense, I noticed a bit of uncertainty in whether or not to hide the elephant in the room that was Westlife when talking about Boyzone, and they eventually got flat-out mentioned in one review of one of Boyzone’s interchangeable hits!

    The next bunny might be a good place to talk about Dido, actually, because I always considered the artist responsible to be in the same pop game as her (and certainly the two would’ve rubbed noses at the top of Radio 2 and local radio playlists at the time!) – easy listening with some diluted dance music. Having just listened to that bunny again for the first time in years, though, that one might need a rethink…

  25. 25
    mrdiscopop on 30 Mar 2015 #

    For all the macho / psychotic posturing, this always seemed whiney to me. Maybe it was the nasal voice, maybe it was the fact his targets were so tame it felt like a petulant puppy fighting a ball of wool.

    And yet the wordplay is so beguiling. At his best, Eminem’s use of rhyme and metre is dizzying in its dexterity. And here, he combines that with a sense of humour that’s absent from his later, fame-scarred material.

    It’s very much a document of its time, though. A pop phenomenon that felt necessary to clear the decks, but which feels gimmicky and dates now.

    I’m swinging wildly between two opinions here. It’s either 7 or a 4 for me. So I’ll split the difference and go 5.

  26. 26
    Mark M on 30 Mar 2015 #

    I wonder – genuinely, not by way of posing an answer to my own question – if the question of the lack of obvious mini-Ems could be connected to this: if you did a Venn diagram of hip-hop fans and Eminem fans, how big would be the overlap section be? What do we think? (As mentioned above, there’s no doubt that he himself identifies as 100% hip hop).
    Does anyone have anything statistically useful, indeed, on this?I had a look a couple of the obvious sources. Last.fm’s ‘similar artists’ are mostly people who have worked with Mathers, at least until you get to ‘medium similarity’ Jay-Z. YouGov have him ‘correlated’ with Gorillaz, The Prodigy, RHCP, Green Day, JT.

  27. 27
    Mark M on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Bar the bunny, I don’t think I enjoy any of his songs. I wrote a couple of hundred words along the lines of ‘introducing Dre’s new white protege?’ for The Face in the build-up to the release of My Name Is… (we were meant to get an interview, but it didn’t work out). I quite liked My Name Is… for a couple of weeks, then found it grating.

    I get that his rhyming is fiendishly clever, but it has no charm, brings me no joy. I don’t like him as prankster and I don’t like him grim-faced.

  28. 28
    Tom on 30 Mar 2015 #

    #26 Jay-Z has worked with him – Eminem is on The Blueprint, on “Renegade”. But I think your general point holds – The Blueprint (and then his mini-beef with Canibus, as mentioned above) is pretty much the last time Eminem feels like part of the main current of hip-hop, and even that track was originally an Eminem track which Jay ended up doing a verse on (so it sticks out like a sore thumb on The Blueprint). Part of this is that – spoilers! – his style gets less flexible, and he stays locked into Dre-esque productions by him and producers who seem only to collaborate with him, which suit him but sound less and less like anything else going on in rap. On his last couple of records there’s a single collaboration each with a current notable figure (Wayne on Recovery, Kendrick Lamar on Marshall Mathers 2) but that’s it.

    But this is an awkward call to make – for one thing, even today he outsells almost anyone in hip-hop, as Alfred Soto pointed out on Facebook. But he feels like a wealthy satellite in orbit around the genre.

  29. 29
    pink champale on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Surpised this hasn’t got more love. I think it’s great, in particular the sheer bloody relentlessness of the thing. Apart from a couple of bars at the beginning and end there literally is not one single second where you get a break from Em’s needling, perfectly controlled drip drip of offensiveness.

    I’m not going to count, but my strong suspicion is that this is the number one with most words we’ll ever encounter

    Nothing at all statistically useful, but I do have an anecdotal sense that there were lots of people who were into Eminen at this time who had very little feeling for other hip hop either before or afterwards. Some possible reasons for this I won’t speculate on, but possibly it was also that there was something perculiarly accessible about Dre’s beats, which had an almost nursery rhyme-like quality and also that the skill and dexterity of Eminem’s rhyming, while in actual fact not massively above that of the top layer of other rappers, was somehow a LOT more obvious to a non expert audience

  30. 30
    Tom on 30 Mar 2015 #

    (Much as when All Saints showed up and people started talking about their “2000 bunny” in hushed tones and I had no idea which of two singles they meant, I am a bit baffled as to what “the bunny” is on this thread – Eminem has two massive critical smashes that got to #1 and are acclaimed by people who don’t usually have much time for him. They are very different. I look forward to finding out which one people mean, I guess! I am not saying yet what I think of either, obviously.)

  31. 31
    pink champale on 30 Mar 2015 #

    Actually, Renegade is a good example of what I mean. Em’s verses are so swaggering and extraordinary on first hearing that it took me ages to notice that what Jay Z was doing in his seemingly much more relaxed conversational style is just as skillful

  32. 32
    Mark M on 30 Mar 2015 #

    (Re30: Ah, again, I only actually know of a limited number of future No1s, so there are songs I’m sure are bunnies, others I suspect might be and some I have no idea about. But I, at least, was talking about the one that has something in common with an Aqua track discussed on Popular. And I’ll leave it at that for now).

  33. 33
    Tommy Mack on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Tom @ 14: good shout, Square Dance is probably my favourite too. “I’m 28, they’re gonna take you ‘fore they take me!’ In fact all my favourite Eminem songs are the ones that build to an hysterical paranoid peak (e.g. The Bunny).

    What can I say about Eminem? I was a big fan, saw him on his Slim Shady tour (“I am now about to drown myself, MANCHESTER!”), played The Marshall Mathers LP to death, though later while revising for university exams (a wonder I learned anything with that racket going on).

    The last proper pop star in the Elvis/Michael/Madonna global game-changer mould, the only chart topper you’d seriously consider in the running for the greatest rapper of all time (except maybe one and he’d probably say his greatest strengths were not as a vocalist) . At his best he was like a Shakespearian anti-hero, speaking his own language, impossible flows of ludicrous, lurid vitriol, waving his fist at the shittiness of life, a bad seedpod sowing the seeds of evil in every young mind, a youth corruptor of whom Jagger and Rotten could only have dreamed. At his worst: Jeremy Clarkson with talent, ‘I’m sticking it to the establishment by bullying these marginalised groups’. Actually, at his very worst, he was just really boring but that comes later and probably not on here.

    On TRSS, there’s a bit of his best and worst, the cheeky, parent-baiting South Park meets Fight Club side (‘spitting in your onion rings’) and as Tom detailed, plenty of impressive vocal set-pieces but also, as many have pointed out, loads of pettines. Eminem is a reactionary prude who’s peeved about ‘the president getting his dick sucked’, kids seeing sex on the Discovery channel, gay marriage, pop stars giving head, pop music. He comes across like Brighton Rock’s Pinkie: sex disgusts him, he fears and despises women, he longs to lash out at the powerful but ends up all too often bullying the weak and kicking round his bunch of followers. All this comes to me now, years after the fact, at the time, it seemed like great obnoxious fun but even that ‘hi, I’m back to fuck shit up’ vibe he’d do much better on (I think) future bunny from his next album.

    7 because in every single person there *is* a Slim Shady lurking but no more than 7 because on this evidence that’s not necessarily a good thing.

  34. 34
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2015 #

    I hadn’t paid much attention to ‘My Name Is…’ for some reason, but TRSS was inescapable. I’m a little surprised it only got to #4 in the US because the vid. was as big as it was possible to get on US MTV.

    Anyhow, I’m feeling a little torn. I loved TRSS at the time. It was exciting to have an Axl Rose-level talented-but-no-fakin-I-AM-a-vicious-little-snake guy on the scene again, and this record was so fiendishly rewindable – you had to to catch all the jokes – and so well targeted that both the TRL-ers and poppers (who had senses of humor) liked it as well as those who actually did resent (or worse) the whole TRL/tween/pop-wave that had taken over since 1998. It felt massive, as though Em. was a one-man alternative nation restoring the pre-1998 regime. The harpsichord part *sounds* like it’s heralding the restoration of a literal ancien regime – musical wit to match the verbal fireworks.

    Yet, listening now (certainly without the vid.) TRSS is thinner and not as engaging as I remember (I guess that this is what people are meaning to get at when they call it ‘dated’).

    I’ve given the track an 8 for now, but may go higher.

  35. 35
    Tom on 31 Mar 2015 #

    “The last proper pop star in the Elvis/Michael/Madonna global game-changer mould”

    Yeahhh, I dunno if you’ve been reading The Wicked And The Divine but all the stuff in that about incredible excitement when a new god/archetype shows up reminds me a lot of the real actual contemporary reaction to Eminem (and Cobain and Madonna and others, but Eminem is the one I was most There for) – someone incredibly hard not to reckon with. There’s one more 2000 Popular debutant to come who it’s impossible to imagine modern pop without but her game-changingness was more tied up with a scene than with (at this point) herself.

  36. 36
    Jonathan on 31 Mar 2015 #

    There was a real crest of this kind of white boy naughtiness masquerading as rebellion at the time — #33 mentions Fight Club and South Park, and I’d throw in Blink-182 and the American Pie franchise, too. I think that makes this something particularly of its time (but in the best way; it’s an excellent song, even if he contorted his cartoonishness into more interesting shapes elsewhere), but the other problem was one caused by its own success. The debate upthread about whether this crosses over with “real” fans of hip-hop seems easily resolved to me: it did, and the latent respect rappers maintained for Em ensured he would pop up with very ordinary verses on rap records for years to come. And dovetailing with Tom’s point on contemporary trolling in the OP, there’s also the clear influence and acknowledged influence he had on, e.g. OFWGKTA.

    But as well as attracting actual rap fans, he also had a ton who weren’t interested in anything but — I think it’s thanks to them that he has maintained such extraordinarily large sales over time — but also many who were introduced to this sort of thing thanks to him. We’re about to hit the last big dovetailing of black music and chart music, and although Eminem seemed a shockingly singular voice at the time — people would call him the best going, which was silly; his talent was very easy to spot, but it was a limited skill set — but within the next few years, Ludacris would be getting #1 chart hits in the US. And unless you really needed to hear a white kid on the mic, why would you be checking for Em when Luda was funnier, 50 was more threatening, and Jay and Outkast more inventive? White boy naughtiness was legitimately an interesting thing in hip-hop for a while, but folks either tired of the schtick, or, through it, discovered more interesting things.

  37. 37
    Alfred on 31 Mar 2015 #

    It’s time to mention Eminem’s odd chart fortunes in the United States. “The Real Slim Shady” was his first top ten, after which none of The Marshall Mathers LP’s singles get remotely close — not even the ubiquitous “Stan.” His imperial period starts in 2002 when the first three The Eminem Show singles hit the top ten. The peak is “Lose Yourself,” his first U.S. #1 in winter ’02 seemingly forever, keeping Missy Elliott’s “Work It” at #2 also forever (the mightiest one-two combo in American chart history?). He produces a track on The Blueprint, produces and contributes to D12’s album, and is unstoppable for the rest of the decade. In 2010 and again in 2013 he scored multiplatinum albums in America: a rare feat in the streaming age. He’s the only artist in the last decade whose popular success is incommensurate with his critical regard. I don’t mean in the Michael Buble sense either. As late as 2013-2014 “The Monster” was a massive #1 hit yet few critics beside Christgau (still a defender) give a damn.

  38. 38
    Speedwell54 on 31 Mar 2015 #

    To continue on from Alfred@37. In terms of number one singles, the UK had managed a 6-1 lead over the US by 2005, since then the gap has narrowed to 7-5 . All to play for.

  39. 39
    lockedintheattic on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #26 – it would be interesting to see what the public reaction would have been if Eminem had been announced as a Glastonbury headliner instead of Jay-Z or Kanye. Both got huge backlashes for being the ‘wrong kind of music’ (and Kanye for dodgy lyrical content) – I suspect Eminem would have been far more acceptable to a lot of traditional glastonbury-goers.

  40. 40
    fivelongdays on 31 Mar 2015 #

    I can’t really put myself up as an expert on hip-hop. I have the rap albums you’d expect a provincial rocker to have. I’ve got some Beasties, an awful lot of GLC (who are only a novelty rap act if the Stones are a novelty blues act), some Public Enemy, Straight Outta Compton and I think some Cypress Hill (basically, if it sounds like it should be on the San Andreas soundtrack…), so please don’t blast my head off if I get this wrong, but there is some truth in how Eminem was the rapper who appealed to non-rap fans.

    I always rather liked My Name Is, and this was a fun follow up. The problem for me with Eminem was his voice. It was whiny and annoying and (although I’m not entirely sure what makes a great rapper) I was always rather surprised by the claims he was the greatest rapper ever. But what would I know? The point of this song is that is feels like a rather snotty ‘fuck you’ to things that annoyed him. And what’s so bad about that? Hell, I worked in McDonalds once, and someone who had sworn at my Mum for no reason? Let’s just say their coke had a little extra in it…

    Aaaanyway, the idea that Eminem was ‘the future of Metal’ (which was something a faked-up NuMetal kid – more on which later, else the Bunny’ll keep hoppin, hoppin, hoppin – told me once) died a death when he headlined Reading 2001’s rock day and brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘tedious’, despite Marilyn Manson popping up to make hip-hop shapes. The last thing I heard – and this is some time ago, rap fans – he was rapping about how someones arse made his peepee go doing doing doing. Oh dear.

    This one? As I said, I rather like it, but I don’t think I’d ever want to listen to it a lot. Seven is about right.

  41. 41
    Andrew on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #35 that’s a generous reading of the LeAnn Rimes story

  42. 42
    JLucas on 31 Mar 2015 #

    I’m afraid I can’t really be objective about this one. It appeared at precisely the wrong place and the wrong time for me. I was fourteen and just at the point of seriously coming to terms with my sexuality. Like a lot of gay people, my peers knew it long before I did. My classmates (the male ones, anyway) loved this song and Eminem in general, so his every hateful utterance was digested and spat right back in my direction. Not only that, despite being in a Catholic school (also no fun for all the obvious reasons), the charts really were my religion at this time. Here was a widely celebrated number one that told me in no uncertain terms that the thing I was afraid I was, was something disgusting and laughable.

    Was it all irony? Frankly I couldn’t care less whether Eminem was more Jim Davidson or Al Murray the Pub Landlord. The vast majority of the people who routinely called me a faggot in school are perfectly lovely, non-homophobic people now. Everyone gets shit for something in school, maybe all Eminem did was give them the particular stick they used to beat me with. But I can’t see past the ugliness of with this record to appreciate the talent that could so easily have been employed *without* casually trampling on a generation of vulnerable youths on the way up.

    To add insult to injury, he also kept the glorious Gotta Tell You by Samantha Mumba off #1 here. The monster.


  43. 43
    lmm on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Wonderful. Starts hard and just keeps going. The thing I remember most was how much it pissed off my parents’ generation – always a noble cause – while displaying a level of technical ability that made it impossible to dismiss. It’s the ultimate answer when someone starts waxing lyrical about the merits of, say, the Sex Pistols.

    Of course offense is a necessary piece of this – and I remember Eminem catching public outrage in a way that others were struggling to. http://www.theonion.com/articles/marilyn-manson-now-going-doortodoor-trying-to-shoc,459/ was, at the time, funny because of how true it felt.

    Soft targets? Maybe, though the Christina and boyband cases aren’t punching down as such. The homophobia side plays into a wider narrative about liberal responses to race and culture – honestly hip-hop at the time was full of aggressive, violent homophobia (going far beyond what we’ll hear from Eminem) that a certain strand was unwilling to criticise for fear of seeming racist; while I’m under no illusions about his intentions, I think Eminem ultimately did some good by bringing that somewhere where it couldn’t be ignored.

    In the forthcoming bunny (I can only think of one, massive and memorable, so I’m unsure where Tom is coming from) we should get to talk about the Pet Shop Boys, which is one way of answering that side on Eminem’ s own terms.

  44. 44
    grace on 31 Mar 2015 #

    @43 – just curious who you’re referring to when you say hip hop at the time was generally as homophobic as Eminem?

  45. 45
    Andrew on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #37 I count three bunnies(!) – Easter?

    #42 incredible payoff. Justice for Mumba.

    I was also a gay teen conflicted over Eminem, but I loved ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and The Marshall Mathers LP. I suppose I invoked some kind of South Park defence – he was a cartoon, etc. I don’t feel so comfortable nowadays with a heightened understanding of white male privilege and the real-world problems adjacent to bigotry-as-entertainment.

    And even then I couldn’t ever listen to that disgusting murder anthem ‘Kim’

  46. 46
    mapman132 on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #37-38 I think Eminem’s relatively poor showing on the Hot 100 during this time was due to the same reasons as Britney’s and the big 3 boy bands’ relatively poor showing at the time: a heavy skew away from single sales and toward radio airplay. Certainly all of these artists had a boatload of album sales and MTV play in the US at the time. Despite my own habit of religiously quoting from it, the Hot 100 really needs to be taken with a huge dose of salt until the download era kicks in near the end of the decade (at which time it can be taken with a smaller dose of salt).

    While on the subject of Eminem and chart oddities, how about the fact that his biggest UK seller is unbunnied … and is also one of the biggest sellers for his singing partner, who has quite a few bunnies herself (including a 10-weeker no less!).

  47. 47
    AMZ1981 on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #44 When asked about homophobia in his songs Eminem’s response was that he was belittling other people (normally other rappers) by insulting their masculinity rather than attacking the gay community as such – although of course the implication that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of is pretty offensive. He probably got the best word in on his next album when he began a track, `Have you ever been discriminated against/ I have, I’ve been protested and demonstrated against`. To be fair homophobia in hip hop was rife at the time and in recent years he has distanced himself from that. I also think he might have appreciated the Pet Shop Boys’ joke at his expense a few years down the line.

    I’m sure you can find plenty of collections of homophobic statements made by rappers in cyberspace, I’m not going to go searching for one. I believe Nas was one of the worst offenders.

  48. 48
    Tom on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #46 I didn’t know “Love The Way You Lie” was his biggest seller here – it did get to number one everywhere in the universe other than Britain though. A dreary record, if memory serves.

    #43 Yes, I’m not claiming it’s punching down, more punching weakly (if stylishly). Like I suggest in the review, if the most imaginative thing you can think to say about a female star is that she must suck industry dick then you’re not exactly stretching yourself. It’s similar to the discriminated/demonstrated quote in #47 – “people are mean because of what I said so now I’m the one being discriminated against” is real starter-kit troll stuff. Eminem isn’t an ideas guy, basically – which is fine, nor are a lot of great rappers, and his delivery at this point makes up for it. But after 15 years rubbing shoulders with my fellow whiney dudes on the internet, I’m sick of the ideas he does have, all they do is annoy me, so I have been sent here to, er, give him a few lukewarm Popular write-ups.

    Re. the homophobia: I don’t know if Eminem is less or more homophobic than his peers. It seemed to me he was on a lot more gay people’s radar as being so, but he was on everyone’s radar a lot more than most rappers. What is the case, I think, is that his use of homophobia in his tracks was a little different from battle rappers who would casually use slurs to put down opponents – which is presumably what Eminem is claiming in the paraphrase in #47. But that isn’t at all what’s going on in the original “My Name Is” before Labi Siffre made him change the lyrics, or in his next No.1 – there’s no battling going on there. Or frankly, in “if we can fuck dead animals and antelopes then there’s no reason why a man and another man can’t elope”. I dunno if it’s better, I dunno if it’s worse, than using the f-word as a lazy diss, but it’s not the same.

  49. 49
    JLucas on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Does it matter if he was more or less homophobic than his rap peers? At the end of the day, he’s the one who broke out and permeated popular culture in a massive way. The attitudes he espoused may have been questioned, but they were broadly tolerated – and widely broadcast – because he was considered cool and edgy, and also because he was much more marketable (read: white and pop culture referencing) than the likes of Tupac and Notorious BIG.

    If you want to create a sliding scale of offensiveness within the rap scene, that’s a discussion I’m not particularly interested in. All I know is that in terms of the music that was playing on the radio, on music television and in my common room, his was by far the loudest and most hateful, and whatever shades of nuance might have been behind it (I recall some mealy mouthed justifications whenever he was challenged, but it’s not like he was doing GLAAD adverts) were in my experience completely lost on the majority of his audience.

    In that sense my distaste is as much for a media that built him up so much and challenged him so little as it is for the man himself, whose personal feelings I can’t and have no interest in speaking for. It might have been necessary to go through Eminem to get to the position we’re in today where (I hope) artists like him wouldn’t get a free pass. But I’m sure as hell not going to thank him for it.

  50. 50
    grace on 31 Mar 2015 #

    @49 sorry, you’re absolutely right. I just don’t much like the argument that all rap is equally bad and most rappers are as homophobic (and misogynist for that matter) as Eminem when I don’t think that’s actually true? It kinda gives Eminem a pass I think. And at the very least it ignores actual gay and female rappers

  51. 51
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Re49/50 etc: I’d love to be able to say that hip-hop isn’t (hasn’t been?) homophobic, and that Eminem was a worst offender, but that just isn’t true. Much of it isn’t even done to shock, it’s just kind of there, just a part of the furniture. For instance, Nas’ ‘Versatile, my style switches like a faggot/But not bisexual, I’m an intellectual’*. People who might have been expected to know better – Public Enemy – were as bad.

    Ego Trip’s Book Of Rap Lists – my go-to-hip-hop trivia source – inevitably has a selection of homophobic lyrics. The prize one – because of the way the search for rhyme makes a nonsense of the offensive metaphor – is Audio Two’s ‘Word to Giz, I hate faggots/They living in the Village like meat on some maggots.’

    My feeling is that things have got somewhat better over the last five years or so, but I don’t listen to enough current mainstream hip-hop to be sure.

    *Apparently, apparently, he avoids that line now.

  52. 52
    Andrew on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #51 Part of the furniture sounds about right, and for a long time the media were complicit.

    I remember NME interviewed Cypress Hill around 1999/2000. One of them said something along the lines of [can’t find it online] “I don’t understand fags, man. When you can have pussy.”

    It went completely unchallenged by the interviewer.

  53. 53
    Shiny Dave on 31 Mar 2015 #

    #51 – it’s certainly not gone away completely, though I think misogyny is more prevalent than homophobia now.

    Now that I know the “artists aren’t bunnied, tracks are” rule, I can freely mention Macklemore as a particular example here. Clearly, there’s the parallel argument in terms of race – and by then there was more widespread discourse calling out his white privilege than there was in 2000, presumably at least in part because of Obama – but even his calling out of homophobia in hip-hop floundered because there are more than a few LGBT rappers, and the bunny off the same album has a second verse that’s dripping in misogyny. But more on that in twelve and a half Popular years. (2021, if we go at a “six months per real year” pace between then and now.)

    I’ve seen the argument (can’t remember where, annoyingly) that homophobic and misogynistic black rappers get promoted by the big labels deliberately, as a way to perpetuate stereotypes. Kind of want to see more evidence either way on this, but certainly the Popular story as it stands does far too little to challenge the idea.

  54. 54
    Alfred on 31 Mar 2015 #

    I speak only for myself as a critic, listener, and gay man: I’d rather hear Eminem’s slurs than Macklemore’s good intentions.

  55. 55
    Mark M on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Re52: I know this is going to sound terrible, but part of it (I think) was it just got boring and felt futile. Certainly in terms of reviews, if you’ve only got 120 or 250 words, how many times are you going to say ‘It’s great but there’s at least one hideously homophobic moment on here’?

    Interviews? Well, depends on the circumstances, I suppose. We’d like to think we’d say, ‘hang on a minute…’ but I can’t swear that I would have done. I don’t think any of the rappers I interviewed were the kind of people who said that sort of stuff, anyway.I did once do a news story for Q about homophobia and Jamaican dancehall, and got into a fairly edgy conversation with a bloke from a (London-based) specialist record label, but a news story is a different beast from an interview. All of which is to say that in a very minor media career way, I’m probably as guilty as anyone else.

  56. 56
    swanstep on 31 Mar 2015 #

    To support my ‘Em was the new Axl’ thesis (#34), it was notable that Elton John was duly wheeled out to give his blessing/absolution in 2001 with a memorable Grammy performance with Em of Em’s next bunny. Go here for the vid. and the story. The messaging was clear: Em was the one vicious little snake it was OK to enjoy (at least in small doses), just as Axl had been a decade before.

  57. 57
    thefatgit on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Not sure how to feel about Macklemore tbh. I read stuff on Tumblr attacking him and defending him in equal measure. By the time Popular gets there, I’ll probably have a much different perspective on him (“who remembers this guy?” style of thing).

  58. 58
    Tommy Mack on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Tom @ 35: I’ve not read it. Whenever you write about comics, I start reading it, think ‘ooh, this sounds really interesting, I should stop reading this and pick up a copy of the comic’ and then never do. Plans that seem to come to nought or half a page of scribbled lines. Maybe next beach-type holiday, I’ll take a massive stack of comics and do some serious catching up.

    The 2000-debutant challenging Em for role as last proper pop star: if you’re talking about who I think you are (I don’t know why we’re doing this when it’s tracks that are bunnied!) then yeah, I’d agree she belongs in the hall of fame. I’d argue Em still last as she was already an established star who (like MJ, to be fair) evolved from leader of a superior group to undeniable so-big-you-can-see-it-from-the-moon icon whereas Eminem was more like Kurt Cobain or Morrissey, a fully-formed curveball no-one expected. (BTW, I’d say there have been loads of important pop gamechangers and better stars since (and loads of minor figures in sales or recognition terms who end up sending out ripples further than you’d expect) but there’s definitely a more limited pantheon of ‘changed the world and music and everyone knows it’ uberstars)

    Is Eminem more homophobic than his peers? Yes, he’s obsessed and deranged. As others have noted, most rap homophobia amounts to calling a rival a faggot or ‘I hate fags because they are fags’ ignorance. Eminem is fixated on gay sex to the extent he created the Ken Kannif character (an ugly, ugly gay=pervert stereotype) to play his obsession for laughs (or hide his true sexuality in plain sight, depending on who you believe). The only real defence you could possibly consider is that Eminem is disgusted and enraged by most things, not least himself and as such, gays are hardly singled out in his lyrics (‘so much anger aimed in no particular direction, just sprays and sprays’).

    It is incredibly frustrating to hear a guy who clearly had the smarts and the skills to attack some deserving targets indulge in such ugly, misanthropic prejudices.

  59. 59
    flahr on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Doing some actually bothering to listen to Eminem as a result of this thread: the lyric to “My Name Is” is really quite staggeringly unpleasant – although my copy is from the B-side of “Bun” so it’s possibly some sort of super-explicit version. If not, then Christ, I shudder to think what it was like before Labi Siffre cleaned it up! Rare case of the cleaned-up-for-radio version being better. (Although I can think of a perhaps unexpected bunnied example of that being the case!)

  60. 60
    pink champale on 31 Mar 2015 #

    Yes, agree with Tommy Mack (and others) “obsessed and deranged” captures it neatly. With a lot of other rappers I sort of feel they’re homophobic just because it’s never occured to them not to be, whereas Eminem gives the impression that he’s thought about it far too much and that it’s part of a much wider revulsion at sex and physicality – being straight doesn’t seem to bring him much job either. There’s a later, ostensibly “sexy”, bunny where his presence just adds an extra layer of wierdness to a record that’s already unsettling (if really good)
    Of course, none of this is much comfort if you’re at the sharp end as JLucas has eloquently set out.

  61. 61
    Shiny Dave on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Absolutely with that. I was confused about my sexuality at the time – like a lot of asexual teenagers, it would be years before I even felt able to adopt a sexual identity at all (I suspect that sort of epiphany comes easier in the Tumblr era, but I stumbled into it only at about 20, and that courtesy of an IRC conversation with a Cambridge postgrad) – and I’d imagine Eminem did not help. Not that this likely even registered, as I was too busy associating him with the bullying 14-year-old boys I was surrounded by and loathed, which led me towards speaking to more girls, which probably reinforced a loop of presumed heterosexuality. Add to that being bought up in a Mail-reading family in my formative years and I internalised an awful lot of awfulness – even as far forward as 2004 my reaction to Bush’s re-election was that I was glad it was for “the right reasons” of voting on morality, when it was obvious even at the time that “morality” in this context meant homophobia and misogyny in the name of Christianity (and I even knew this from a LiveJournal I read at the time!) – and I can’t help but wonder whether that’d have changed if the game-changing artist of the early 2000s had been speaking to me.

    Or, to be more exact, if I’d known the other game-changing artist of the early 2000s was the one to pay attention to.

  62. 62
    Andrew on 1 Apr 2015 #

    #59 Genius is (reliably) helpful on this – the lyrics listed are the ‘cleaned up’ (after Labi Siffre protested) version, but not the clean radio version.

    These two annotations show the original lyrics (which I can swear I remember hearing more than once back in 1999, not sure when the cleanup happened exactly?):



    Some other annotations for the song also indicate the clean radio lyrics.

    (Genius is amazing)

  63. 63
    wichitalineman on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Without wanting to sound like I’m stirring trouble… I’m intrigued to know why Eminem as a “game changer” has been universally accepted here.

    Is this down to sales figures? Or race? Both feel to me like steps in the evolution of rap. Because he’s the biggest selling hip hop act to date? His time as a genuine phenomenon felt pretty brief, in spite of ongoing Billboard no.1 albums.

    Maybe I’m taking “game changer” to be a bigger term than others here. But it feels like a very big claim. I take “game changing” to mean that everything would have been different without Eminem. Do people really believe that?

  64. 64
    Izzy on 1 Apr 2015 #

    I think you can make a case for there being a ‘game changer’ at some point around the turn of the century, where hip hop becomes the default youth sound, as opposed to just another genre. In timing Eminem just about fits the bill, though the Beastie Boys or Snoop might be better shouts (or any number of others I guess, depending on your angle).

    I’m not sure the theory works anyway – the lack of followers nixes ‘nem’s claim to have changed any game. And I’m not sure that hip hop actually ever did reach default status, except in terms of what you were going to put in a middle eight.

  65. 65
    katstevens on 1 Apr 2015 #

    I was part of the hugely disappointed crowd for Eminem’s Reading 2001 set. He didn’t play a single song I liked from MMLP or SSLP and was mostly just arsing around with D12. The only notable bit was when he started mumbling “big up Aaliyah”, who had literally just died that morning, which pre-smartphones nobody at the festival could have known about. 10,000 metallers wondering why he’s talking about some R&B lass start booing him, Eminem tells them all to fuck off. Things were already bad but went swiftly downhill from there.

  66. 66
    fivelongdays on 1 Apr 2015 #

    If I recall correctly, this would have been around the time when the USA discovered ecstasy. Witness the hilarity as Eminem took a couple of paracetamol in front of an incredibly bored crowd!

  67. 67
    katstevens on 1 Apr 2015 #

    God yes that was excruciating.

  68. 68
    wichitalineman on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Re 64: I think you’re right with the Beastie Boys and Snoop, but I think that only confirms it was an evolution. Rock wasn’t entirely off the map, as a bunnied bunch of soggy Digestives will soon prove.

    Now HERE is a genuine game-changer:

  69. 69
    Ed on 1 Apr 2015 #

    In some ways the Beastie Boys were a bigger cultural force than Eminem, in their day. They made tabloid front pages, for example, which I don’t think he ever did.

    When they first broke, they hit a lot of the same points in terms of homophobia, sexism, and violence, too. Licenced to Ill’s originally planned title was Don’t Be A F******, apparently, until Russell Simmons vetoed it.

    One big difference was that it was always clear they were well-off middle-class New Yorkers playing at being bad boys, whereas he was a working-class Midwesterner driven by desperation and rage.

    And the Beasties spent much of their career apologising for their earlier stupidity, which Eminem never quite did.

  70. 70
    The Muppet on 1 Apr 2015 #

    I think there might have been some in early 2001, around the time of the Grammy’s and when there were protests at shows in London. I remember around the time this was happening I Love 1987 was on TV and I noticed not only how different the Beastie Boys were to how I knew them but also how similar the controversy around them was to what was happening with Eminem at the time.

  71. 71
    Tom on 1 Apr 2015 #

    One interpretation of the grand story of Popular is that there never really has been a ‘default’. (But that particular cookie crew is an odd one to pick given the style they represented is such a clear response to rap.)

  72. 72
    Alfred on 1 Apr 2015 #

    #69: I don’t know: it’s clear to me the manipulation of identities, whether shaped by pathologies or public expectations, is precisely what drives Eminem. In other words, he is “playing at being a bad boy.”

    And if the Beasties had chosen NOT to apologize, would it have mattered? If Eminem apologized, would it matter?

  73. 73
    Ed on 1 Apr 2015 #

    @72 That’s a good point. Wikipedia makes clear how Eminem’s career was going nowhere until he came up with the Slim Shady persona.

    To quote somebody up-thread, though, Eminem’s obsession and derangement do feel somehow different. And I think the fact that he still, at 42, aparently doesn’t have much perspective on his own work is evidence of that.

    Anyone heard the latest album? How does he sound these days?

  74. 74
    lmm on 1 Apr 2015 #

    #63 He really was the game changer: he took rap mainstream when before it had been something for music nerds. We can speculate about the ugly reasons for that, but one way or another it happened. The forthcoming bunny is where that really happens: it felt like it was topping the charts for months, made the sampled artist a name almost in passing. But most of all it was a Game of Thrones-like cultural moment: suddenly everyone, everywhere was talking about Eminem and about rap, even those who’d previously shown no interest in music.

    Eminem really was that important. But admittedly not yet, not on this track. So I hope I’m not stepping too far out of line.

  75. 75
    Tommy Mack on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Alfred @ #72 et al. Clearly he was playing a character. The best defence you could mount for him (the one I internalised when I used to listen regularly) is that he’s playing the bad guy, we’re not meant to think Slim Shady is cool (‘I’ve got genital warts and it burns when I pee: don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!’) like we were in 1986 with The Beasties – there’s nothing on License To Ill to suggest that any of the Beasties have any qualms or sense of irony about the casual nastiness they’re dishing out and furthermore, they take the role of alpha-bully on every track whereas Eminem only wants to be admired for two things, his prowess as a rapper and his holding it together against the odds for his daughter. I’m inclined to agree with Irvine Welsh in Glue when he says working class musicians would never be allowed to shrug off something like LTI as a mix of tongue-in-cheek and puppyish mischief (he wasn’t talking about the Beasties but a fictitious incident involving a character who becomes a DJ but I did instantly think of the Beasties by way of compare-and-contrast when I read it)

    Tom’s Andrew Dice Clay comparison was unfair, Eminem is more Jerry Sadowitz, a virtuoso offender (with sick flows in place of Sadowitz’s card tricks) amazing and appalling his audience in equal measure.

    I agree though, all this counts for nought if you’re on the end of the homophobic bullying he sponsors. For all the layers of characterisation and self-deprication, you do get the impression that he’s actually a nasty little prick underneath it all anyway. I don’t listen to him much these days and when I do, it’s the epic, paranoid ones, rather than the Zappa-esque sick humour stuff.

    Wichita @ 63: Game-changer? I feel he fits the bill in the sense that he was a force of nature who no-one was expecting but whom no-one could ignore (at least for a bit) once he was here. He sounded completely novel, he came from nowhere (unless you seriously knew your underground hip hop) and he got huge overnight.

    On reflection, game-changer is the maybe wrong word, unlike all the other names mentioned, he generated no imitators* (though I recall the industry hyping every vaguely novel white rapper from Kid Rock to Bubba Sparxxx to Princess Superstar as the new Eminem) He didn’t really change the rest of the game but he made enough noise that the game felt different just for his presence.

    *the most authentically Eminem-ish act I can think of is 2014 critical darlings Sleaford Mods: all the good bits of Eminem with none of the nasty shit, underdog rage directed squarely at more deserving targets.

  76. 76
    anto on 1 Apr 2015 #

    For all the talk of Eminem as the Elvis of rap, I can see more parallels with Morrissey – A similarly pervasive self-pity (but with no shortage of humour), a voice that for some is a head-ache but which upon it’s unexpected arrival turned out to be just the voice so many listeners had been waiting for, the two of them even had easy-to-imitate hairstyles. And then of course there is the relationship with his fans – The Eminem world-view was grimly fascinating, not least for being rooted in a particularly tough reality, but much like the Morrissey worldview, as much as certain people might identify with it, not a wise code to follow long-term (that is, beyond adolescence) – Eminem would of course confront this factor of his success in a later hit, but he had to reach that level of adulation first. Certainly, the music world of 2000-01 seemed to belong to him more than anyone, his talent obvious even to a rap non-believer like me and his compelling blend of dumb and clever ripping through the blandness of so much around it.
    For all that, I would agree with the review here about the track in question. ‘The Real Slim Shady’ is a misnomer of sorts as it seemed overly cartoonish and busy after the stark and rude arrival of ‘My Name Is’. As for the controversy – the anti-woman, gay-mocking tendencies struck me as a lack of education making itself all too public, I never saw any reason for excuses – he was well into his late twenties at this stage and should have known what he was doing (and as far as i know the forty-something Eminem has never renounced such things), if anything it’s an example of the generation I belong to and it’s annoying habit of letting itself off the hook over certain matters.
    My real problem with Eminem was that, even allowing for the fact that he was taking the piss half the time, he was intent on blaming his hang-ups on everyone but himself. He was always quick to offer the sort of defences favoured by gobby people who think the world owes them a living – ‘I’m only saying what you’re all thinking’ (Um..no you’re not, btw I notice this particular claim has been prevalent amongst the Clarkson apologists) or even ‘ I might have an attitude, but I’ll always be there for my kid’ (Er, yeah that is kinda your responsibility, you don’t get a round of applause for changing a nappy) while most dispiriting of all was the way in which a lot of people who should have known better actually started to agree with the ‘society is to blame for me’ line.
    Probably the most interesting pop star on the list for 2000, but by far the most frustrating too.

  77. 77
    Mark M on 1 Apr 2015 #

    In an attempt to slot Eminem back into hip-hop history (where he feels he belongs), here’s a couple of grand guignol rap precursors: the Gravediggaz with the very darkly satirical 1-800-Suicide and a Greil Marcus fave, the Geto Boys’ Minds Playing Tricks On Me.

  78. 78
    Alfred on 1 Apr 2015 #

    #74 “He really was the game changer: he took rap mainstream when before it had been something for music nerds. ”

    In the UK, yes? It’s not the case in America. Rap and R&B had been topping the pop chart for years. Look at Biggie and Puff Daddy’s careers.

  79. 79
    Mark M on 1 Apr 2015 #

    (Alfred got there first, but here’s some figures)

    The 25 bestselling (in the US) hip-hop albums of all time – suggests that, yes, Eminem sold a lot of records, but leans against the idea that (on home territory, at least) in wider sales terms there was before-Marshall and after-Marshall.

  80. 80
    Phil on 1 Apr 2015 #

    I think I only heard this a couple of times at the time & didn’t listen all that closely to the lyrics, but what leapt out at me back then was the suggestion of dissociation in the chorus. “I’m the real Shady, so will the real Slim Shady please stand up” – as it stands it makes no sense, it contradicts itself. The idea that he’s oppressed by the thought that his own identity is fictitious – to the point where he wants a better contender to take it off him – is a lot more interesting than, well, anything else in the rap. Shame he didn’t follow that up. (Or did he? Serious question, I wasn’t really listening.)

  81. 81
    Tom on 1 Apr 2015 #

    The question of whether he made hip-hop mainstream in the UK is interesting, too – it’s more that he WAS mainstream hip-hop in the UK for several years. Hip-hop had been landing singles at #1 for a while – we’ve already covered the two highest selling rap singles in UK history (“I’ll Be Missing You” and “Gangsta’s Paradise” – both sold twice as much as Eminem’s biggest seller) but in the 2000s Eminem sold more than anyone by a distance. If you look at LPs, where 17 hip-hop records have ever topped the UK charts, he dominates again (even D12 get a #1!) but there’s no great evidence that he pulled the rest of the genre up with him – it’s not until this decade that the hip-hop acts who can land #1 UK albums start diversifying much.

    My understanding is that Eminem broke through outside London (and a few other cities where hip-hop had done OK) in ways other rappers didn’t, and didn’t after him. The fact he was asked to perform at Reading and people had some expectation that he’d be good (even if he sucked) is very telling. So yes, more of a game winner than a game changer.

  82. 82
    Shiny Dave on 2 Apr 2015 #

    And, as Tom noted at the end of his review, his particular brand of cis white male entitlement lays the foundation for a definite cultural shift in this century. A hip-hop game winner, a cultural game-changer, and a hell of a lot easier to applaud for the former.

  83. 83
    Rory on 2 Apr 2015 #

    Not sure what to make of this yet. I never paid much attention to Eminem, although he was hard to avoid, and “My Name Is” and at least one bunny are plenty familiar. Somehow I missed this one, though. Musically, it’s a track I could easily see giving a 6 or 7, even though hip-hop isn’t my bag. Lyrically, I’m finding it hard to look past the objections JLucas has raised; any kind of excuse I might make for them feels like a cop-out. The South Park defence has some intellectual appeal, but I don’t really know enough about the man to know if it’s valid (although I’m learning, thanks to all of you), and instinctively it doesn’t feel like such a great defence anyway. (7 + 3) / 2 = 5: My Name is Wish Washy.

  84. 84
    Phil on 2 Apr 2015 #

    #18 – I don’t know what Dido’s parents’ excuse was. But to be fair to Eno, he went to a Catholic seminary whose pupils were expected to take a saint’s name when they left, as a kind of token of graduation. (Catholics are often baptised with a saint’s name – as in James Steven Ignatius Corr – so taking another saint’s name is symbolically quite a big deal.) It was the school of St John le Baptiste de la Salle, and the young Eno couldn’t think of a better saint to honour. And so it was that plain old Brian Peter George Eno became Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, all in one go – it’s one extra name, not three (or seven). I wonder now whether the Pythons had him in mind when they came up with Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Blackpool Rock Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable Brrroooo Norman Michael (rings bell) (blows whistle) Edward (sounds car horn) (does train impersonation) (sounds buzzer) Thomas Moo… ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the…’ (fires gun) William (makes silly noise) ‘Raindrops keep falling on my’ (weird noise) ‘Don’t sleep in the subway’ (cuckoo cuckoo) Naaoooo… Smith.

  85. 85
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Apr 2015 #

    James and Steven also being saints’ names there, of course…

  86. 86
    Phil on 3 Apr 2015 #

    As are both of mine, but purely by coincidence. The chance that Mr and Mrs Corr just liked the name Ignatius seems slim.

  87. 87
    Andrew Farrell on 3 Apr 2015 #

    I have an uncle Ignatius, as it happens. My point is that the set of saint’s names incorporates a lot of ‘regular names’, and the historical idea of making it ostentatiously sainty, the tradition of naming kids after relatives, and the chance to distinguish from the English and their fucking dull names, all tend to blend together over the long run.

    (also, you mean confirmation rather than baptism)

  88. 88
    Phil on 4 Apr 2015 #

    Ah. That would also make more sense of the Eno story – a semi-symbolic ‘second confirmation’ is much less of a big deal than a ‘second baptism’, which sounds a bit culty even in quotes.

    Dull English names like James, John, Simon, Peter, Andrew, Thomas, Philip, Matthew…?

  89. 89

    also this is eno! even a young teen eno (or teeno as i now think of him) would surely never pass up the opportunity to enjoy the curious consequences a strict adherence to rules could lead to — NEVER NOT HIS SHTICK

  90. 90
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Apr 2015 #

    Oh absolutely, Eno is always a pusher – I think of Teeno as even balder than Roxy-era losing his hair Eno?

  91. 91
    Andrew Farrell on 4 Apr 2015 #

    (I obviously take Phil’s point that England and Ireland have a lot of, ahem, shared history – that doesn’t make pushing against it any less of a thing)

  92. 92
    Chelovek na lune on 4 Apr 2015 #

    I’d say based on casual observation that it’s not so much Irish Catholics who try to stand out with flamboyant attention-seeking names (quite the reverse, in fact), but rather the old recusant families of the English Aristocracy (who tend to be more flamboyant about their religion than, well, most believers, in general).

  93. 93
    Mark M on 19 Apr 2015 #

    Re27: Just heard My Name Is… and liked it better a lot more than I thought I now did (i.e. the way I feel about it now is closer to how I did when I very first heard it). Maybe that’s because it’s a long time since I’d last heard it so it’s lost that overplayed vibe for me.

  94. 94
    ciaran on 10 Jun 2015 #

    Eminem really seemed like a ready-made star and I’d struggle to think of a hip hop artist before that had such an appeal to non-rap fans. You’d have fans of Kayne, Jay-Z, 50 Cent afterwards but people could point out flaws in others that they didn’t or maybe didn’t want to recognise in Slim Shady.

    That he delivered perhaps one of the finest collection of early singles made it easy for the crossover. Of the first 7 to 8 singles there is so many that would get the 8 to 10 mark and My Name Is was up there with Wannabe as one of the best entrances you could wish for. Even the guest stuff like Forgot About Dre and Renegade is for me just as accomplished as his main work. You could maybe point to the gap in a market what with Oasis and Blur not gathering the plaudits and spice mania gone quiet. The time was perfect for Michigan’s hellcat with a chip finely balanced his shoulder.The sound of a picked upon teenager shaking Middle America to its core.

    TRSS is arguably one of the Eminem less enjoyable hits mainly because as pointed out the pop culture references sound a bit tired and dated now but theres no doubting the skill of Eminem and his way of sticking it to the man. By the start I’m groaning a bit hearing the thing once but for a finish can fully buy into it and don’t want it to end.

    It doesn’t rest easily with the more maniac offerings of the Marshall Mathers LP but the goofy was/is as much a charm of Eminem as the gloom. 8.

  95. 95
    Tommy Mack on 15 Jun 2015 #

    We love a bit of self-deprecation in the UK. As such, I think we’ve always had a bit of suspicion (sometimes rightly, often wrongly) of rap as being too boastful, perhaps not fully understanding US racial politics. No surprise, at least, on this side of the side of the pond, we lapped up a bloke rapping ‘I’ve got genital warts and it burns when I pee’

  96. 96
    Tommy Mack on 16 Aug 2015 #

    I’ve read a couple of articles recently, trying to reclaim The Macc Lads as arch satirists. Which made me think of this. It seems the answer’s fairly simple: just because someone’s self-aware and good at self-deprecation doesn’t excempt them from bigotry. The world is not divided into clever, good people and bad, stupid people. Obviously.

  97. 97
    flahr on 25 Nov 2015 #

    #59 – I really need to stop making these enigmatic comments about the future and then entirely forgetting to what they refer. Think I’ve figured this one out.

  98. 98
    Ed on 25 Nov 2015 #

    Mark M @77: Just noticed your comment, browsing back into history, and it resonated because I’ve been playing the Geto Boys’ Mind Playing Tricks On Me on repeat recently.

    OK, it may be a precursor of Eminem, but MPTOM is (no joke) one of the great works of art of the 20th Century. The ending is more powerful than anything else I can think of in the history of pop.

    Eminem would dream of coming anywhere close to that achievement, even at his absolute peaks. (Like everyone, I’d count Stan as one of those. More controversially, I think Mosh is another.)

    There’s a closer precedent from the Geto Boys, I would say, in their much more cartoonish Mind Of A Lunatic. Cartoonish where the cartoon in question is Itchy and Scratchy, that is.

  99. 99
    Mark M on 25 Nov 2015 #

    Re98: Yeah, Mind Of A Lunatic is more to the point. In any case, I don’t think that Eminem has anything anywhere as good as Mind Playing Tricks On Me (or indeed 1-800-Suicide). My broader was that a number of critics who had a fairly hazy knowledge of hip-hop claimed a bunch of innovations for him, some of which may be true for all I know (some of the rhyme schemes?), and some of which weren’t (use of very dark humour to take on serious issues). But (I was trying to argue) the last person who would put him apart from hip-hop history or who would deny forbearers such as the Geto Boys.

  100. 100
    Tommy Mack on 25 Nov 2015 #

    Claiming Eminem was the first horror-rapper is like claiming Elvis was the first rock’n’roller: the barest bit of research reveals plenty others came before but to millions of people at the time, Elvis WAS the first rock’n’roller that they heard and Eminem WAS the first bloke they* heard rapping about stuff that wasn’t cool and tough and street but was weird pervy Cronenburg meets Bukowski stuff.

    *Probably a different ‘they’: Eminem certainly seemed to think so on [possible future bunny]

  101. 101
    Mark M on 27 Oct 2019 #

    Interesting conversation here between veteran non-mainstream MCs Talib Kweli and Murs on the subject of white rappers, including the twist by which it’s harder for them to get a start, but easier for them to get massive. (I like their very contemporary disclaimer that this only their perception of the white experience).

  102. 102
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Eminem is one my musical bête noires I’m afraid. 4 3/4 minutes of this? I’ll pass thanks, 1/10.

  103. 103
    Mr Tinkertrain on 2 Aug 2022 #

    Lots to talk about here, clearly! Some great discussion above and I’m not that articulate, but my own random thoughts on this:

    – I was 15 when this came out so pretty much the ideal age to enjoy the provocative nature of this, and the catchiness certainly helped;
    – The comments noting that rock fans who weren’t into rap at all still enjoyed Eminem certainly applied to me at the time. I’ve got more into 90s rap as I’ve got older, but I’m not much of a rap fan, yet I really enjoyed Eminem’s singles as a teenager. To a white audience anyway, they felt a bit more accessible and his way with a hook and darkly amusing lyrics didn’t hurt;
    – In the UK at least, Eminem crossed over in a way no other rapper had done before. Not only was he all over Smash Hits and the like, but he also made it onto Kerrang TV at the time. Biggie and Tupac hadn’t managed that;
    – In retrospect, it’s kind of astonishing that songs like this, which were full of swearing and references to sex, drugs and violence, were being played on every pop station in the country;
    – Eminem was actually pressurised into making a song like this, hence the line in The Way I Am that goes “Let’s stop with the fables / I’m not gonna be able to top a ‘My Name Is'”. Of course, you could argue that he actually did top it.

    Whatever else you want to say about Eminem, he’s not boring and the pop world of the 2000s would have been a much duller place without him. 8 for this one.

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